PITTSBURGH, Pa. June 23, 2012 -- Peter Chiarelli loves a challenge, and he didn't back down from one today as the NHL completed its annual draft and his Bruins came away with a brace of prospects who he hopes will help transform his team to better compete for the ultimate prize that's eluded the team since 1973.
"Well the game has changed since the lockout, and we need to adapt. We're still the Bruins, but we need speed and skill to hope to win the Stanley Cup one day. So we're really happy with some of the players we got this weekend, guys like Sebastian Collberg who fell to us at #24. He's a really talented kid, he's got good size at 5'11", but more importantly the kid can skate and he'll dazzle you with the puck," said Chiarelli, describing his draft day haul in a rambling interview as crews tore down the stage at the Penguins' arena.
"Other guys we snagged like Matt Grzelcyk, Charles Hudon, they're really talented players, character players who will augment our roster and bring the skill element that we've been lacking," he added, with a note of excitement.
Pressed on what he meant when he referred to a deficit in skill, he brought up the previous season's Stanley Cup final between their division rivals Montréal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks, a skating affair that went seven games and was described by many analysts as some of the best hockey since the Oilers vs. Flames playoff series of the 1980's.
"We were so close, if we'd gotten through the first round, I really think we had the team to make it to the finals at least last season," he ruminated sourly. "We had a great regular season, had solid defence and a good offence, good goaltending, but we kind of lost our way in that first round. Stuff we got away with in the regular season wasn't going to fly in the playoffs, I mean, Commissioner Dryden makes it very clear that when our biggest audiences are watching we'll put forward our best product. There's a good reason they bring out the best refs for the playoffs, and we talked about it before every game, but we just went over the line a couple of times."
Charelli hesitated when asked if he meant the notorious 'Ference Finger', when defenceman Andrew Ference offered his middle finger to the Montreal crowd after scoring a goal during Game 4, a move that promptly got him suspended for the rest of the series and may have sealed the Bruins' fate. The Canadiens deadly power play took advantage of the five-minute man advantage to score three times and gain a 3-1 lead in the series. Charelli accepts the league's decision and speaks to the fact that there is no place in the game for disgraceful gestures towards paying customers, but still defends his defenceman.
"We don't want to pile on Andrew, he's just recently put an end to his appeals and the 'glove malfunction' angle and accepted responsibility for what he did. He apologized and spoke clearly and honestly about what happened, that's what we wanted as an organization, also as a league, and we kind of want to move on. He's a hyper competitive guy immersed in a really hot rivalry, and he got carried away a little bit and we paid the price. But that's why we talk so much about discipline and character, and we're shaping our team to have the toughness to not take those penalties that aren't necessarily competitive penalties, those you take as you fight to win the game, but instead maybe more selfish penalties. We need to as a team rely on each other to keep our cool and fight hard but fair and not attract the officials' attention. We want guys who wince when they hear the whistle and are sent to the box, guys who understand that you're hurting the team when you're in the box and that you can't win that way.
"It hurt us to lose that game, but losing Andrew for the series was another hard blow. He's one of our more mobile guys on the blue line, and to not have him out there meant we had to rely on guys like Zdeno (Chara) and Adam (McQuaid), and playoff hockey is a whole different game and maybe we didn't have them prepared like we should have."
When the status of Zdeno Chara was brought up, Chiarelli was uncharacteristically curt.
"Zdeno Chara is a member of the Boston Bruins, and he's still our Assistant Captain." When pressed to elaborate, he added: "He had a tough playoff, but he still has a lot of hockey left in him. There's always room for a guy with good size and a cannon from the point. I mean, no one's asking Vincent Damphousse about the status of Sheldon Souray. With the right partner, Zdeno can play the same kind of game Souray does, and be just as effective as he was before the rules started being enforced more strictly. We just need to adapt, look at how a guy like Hal Gill of the Penguins can just use his long stick and position himself to block shots and defend well."
On the Milan Lucic suspension, the Boston GM was also supportive of his player.
"I still think that the crosscheck to Dominic Moore was a reflex, a reaction. There's no way that should have been a twenty game suspension, that's way too harsh, but again, we've moved on from that. We have to respect (Director of Player Safety) Steve Yzerman's decision, he has a tough job to do, a lot of things to balance. The new partnership between the (NHL)PA and the owners is taking us in that direction, we need to accept it and move on."
Asked about the effect on his player and the team, Chiarelli added: "Well obviously it killed his post-season, he was a little bit rusty and tentative, it's hard to get thrown on the ice in the middle of a playoff series after being away a quarter of the season, it's hard to keep up, the skating definitely suffers. He didn't know if he gave someone an elbow or a slash if he was going to be suspended again, so he was off his game a little bit."
Asked whether a player with Lucic's skating can be effective in new NHL, Chiarelli responded thus: "Milan has a lot of talent as a hockey player, he has a nose for the net and is hard to move off the puck, he's effective in the corners, he can chip in a few goals, play ten-fifteen minutes a game, and that's really valuable from a fourth-liner. Not many teams like playing against him and Scott Thornton. A lot of teams would love to have Milan on their side."
About the only subject the Bruins' GM refused to discuss was Tim Thomas, currently being prosecuted in Federal Court for assaulting an ATF agent, stating the organization would not comment while the trial proceeds.
When the subject moved to the tradition of the Big Bad Bruins and how the early exit from the playoffs two years in a row coupled with the drafting of skilled players instead of the more traditional brawny Boston picks might mean the end of the team's identity, Chiarelli shrugged and pointed to his rival team's coach Guy Carbonneau, surrounded again by a Montreal media scrum.
"You look at Guy, he has a lot of skill on his roster, but it's not like they don't have size either. (Guillaume) Latendresse, the Kostitsyn brothers, Max Pacioretty, all these guys, they're all six footers and all 200 pounders, and they all skate like crazy and hit a ton. So it's not like you can't have size anymore and toughness, it's just that you also need those guys to skate and put the puck in the net.
"Look at their defencemen, Markov goes down for twenty games with a knee, they don't flinch. Guy rolls out these big bruisers, Souray, Fischer, Emelin, McDonagh, they're all tough guys and they can clear the crease, but they can all skate and move the puck and get it out of the zone. That kid Subban, he's up to stay, there's no way he's going back down to the AHL after the season he had. It's a good problem for a team to have. And that's the way we're going to do it too, we're going to draft well and develop our players."
Asked about the convulsions in the Bruins' front office, Chiarelli disputed the notion that they were a team in crisis.
"First of all, the idea that Mr. Jacobs being behind bars has any effect on the way we do our business is just erroneous. Completely false. There was a smooth transition to a blind trust that's headed by Ray Bourque, he's the acting owner. Cam Neely reports to him, he's the President, and I report to Cam. And when the team is sold, we'll review the structure then. It's not much different than what they do in Montreal, with Vinny reporting to Gainey who reports to Serge Savard and Geoff Molson.
"Same with the player development team we hired, we're following our prospects more closely now, we're going to give them all the support they need, same as Montreal does.
"They have all their former players showing them the Canadiens way, we're going to show ours the Bruins way. They have Larry Robinson as their Assistant Coach working with their D, we'll have Carol Vadnais next season.
Asked about the frequent comparisons to the Canadiens rather than other division rivals like the Québec Nordiques or the Markham Marauders or the currently under NHL-trusteeship Toronto Maple Leafs, Chiarelli shrugged:
"Those guys are the team everyone copies, what with all the tradition and the history. They've just won back-to-back Cups, they must doing something right."